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It’s Inevitable: The Coronavirus has Hit the Arab World—How are they Handling It?

posted on: Mar 4, 2020

It’s Inevitable: The Coronavirus has hit the Arab World—How are they Handling It?

By John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer

It seems that the Arab countries are managing the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as well as they can. They do not seem to have been left flat-footed by the arrival of the virus, unlike another country, whose initials are the U.S. Whether the steps these countries are taking are adequate will be known only as what experts are now beginning to call a pandemic unfolds. Contributing writer, John Mason, takes a look at the status of the virus across the Arab World.

Coronavirus spreads in Arab countries along with fears of the infection

As all countries in the world will seemingly be hit by the coronavirus, so far most Arab countries have recorded new coronavirus infections. While this news arrives at a point when the World Health Organization believes it is too soon to announce a global pandemic due to the virus, WHO has not ruled out it’s becoming a pandemic.

The question of how well each country is able to respond to this virus is answered by how effective its health infrastructure is. The fact that most Arab countries have registered and reported on virus cases, including their geographic origins, is the beginning of their fight against them. So, the evidence thus far is that ministries of health of these countries are up to the initial task of identifying and responding to the early stage of this pernicious infectious disease.

It’s Inevitable: The Coronavirus has hit the Arab World—How are they Handling It?
Hospitals in Arab countries seem ready to deal with the initial stages of the coronavirus  Photo

But, regardless of their capacity to respond to the initial stages of the coronavirus, as with every other country in the world, only when a vaccine for the coronavirus is developed about a year from now will they be able to end this vicious infection. This timeframe of a year is based on public health standards for developing and testing a vaccine in a series of populations vaccine. Management of the virus prior to the provision of the vaccine is dependent on each country’s capacity to provide hospital beds, ventilators or oxygen respirators and other forms of relief, even before the ultimate vaccine arrives.

While we focus here on Arab countries regarding this case of this virus, the issue of the virus transcends national, cultural and political barriers. We are all alone and we are all together in resolving this pandemic.

How ready are Arab countries to manage the virus?

At a very early point in the virus’s evolution, the number of coronavirus cases in the Middle East was zero.  However, according to Al-Khaleej Today, “Less than two months later, not only are there cases in at least seven Arab countries, but Iran has become the regional epicenter of the epidemic with the second-highest death rate after China.” While Iran is not part of the Arab World, it is the “vector of infection in the Middle East” and thus dramatic enough to have a strong effect on the spread of the virus in the region.

Countries such as Oman have halted flights to Iran, while others are canceling food imports from China, where the virus is known to have originated. Others such as Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, and Lebanon have all now reported cases of the virus. They all noted the symptoms of the coronavirus, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), as fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Furthermore, in severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, SARS, kidney failure and death.

It’s Inevitable: The Coronavirus has hit the Arab World—How are they Handling It?

Arab countries are focusing on airport monitoring of potential carriers of the coronavirus  photo

What Arab governments are doing to manage the coronavirus 

Based on the news source, Albwaba, Arab governments are taking some basic steps in thwarting the virus, as follows:

  • Lebanon, the government has banned air travel from the country, even for pilgrimages
  • Oman reported that its public health emergency plan was in place, especially the readiness of its equipment and procedures used to inspect airport and port arrivals
  • Jordan has quarantined a Chinese worker who had just arrived from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus. That government has also developed pre-prepared medical protocols to test for new cases
  • Iraq dispatched a plane to Wuhan to transport Iraqi students from Wuhan. It, too, like Jordan has developed preventive medical procedures for the virus
  • Palestine health officials have increased preparedness levels in it health facilities and placed health monitors at border-crossing point
  • Kuwait has withdrawn diplomatic families from China
  • The UAE has called on Emiratis abroad to follow safety and medical precautions to keep them safe
  • Saudi Arabia advised its citizens in China to leave and for citizens outside China who wish to visit China to postpone their visits
  • Qatar has taken the preventative action of installing thermal cameras at Hamad International Airport as well as distributing awareness messages to air passengers coming from China to monitor the emergence of any symptoms
  • Syria confirmed that there were no cases of the virus and that the Ministry of Health had reported that the Ministry had “… taken all necessary precautions to prevent its spread in the country
  • Egypt’s Ministry of Health had a protocol for preventive measures, especially at airports, including measuring travelers temperatures
  • Algeria’s Ministry of Health announced preventive measures at airports, ports, and border crossings, to counter any possible threat to the virus and
  • Morocco had activated its health monitoring system at international airports and ports in an effort to detect any incoming cases of the virus 
It’s Inevitable: The Coronavirus has hit the Arab World—How are they Handling It?
Hospitals around the Arab World will be put to the test of managing the virus   photo Youtube

Broader questions of how the coronavirus affects world markets

While our major concern is the wellbeing of the world’s population, the virus has major implications for trade in the global market. Here, we touch only briefly on the economic spinoffs of this worldwide catastrophe. According to CNBC, “The coronavirus is just starting to have an impact on the globe’s economy and politics.”

While still early to get a handle on the impact of the coronavirus, it is clear that some Chinese and global supply chains are already affected. The U.S. stock market has taken a big hit, though this is as much a result of panic among stockholders as it is, at least so far, real economic damage.

Given that the Chinese economy was already slowing before the appearance of the virus, now China is taking an even bigger hit. Because of the impact on Chinese supply chains, the economy of the U.S. is showing signs of instability. The rest of the world economy has also begun to feel the impact of these two super economies, which increases the chances of a global market turndown in 2020.



“How are Arab countries preparing for coronavirus?” AlKhaleej Today, 1/2020

“Are Arab Countries Ready to Fight The Coronavirus Spread? Albawaba-your gateway to the ME, 2/26/2020

“The coronavirus is just starting to have an impact on the globe’s economy and politics,” CNBC, 2/1/2020



John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served on the United Nations staff in Tripoli, Libya and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.



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